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CHINA UNDER COVER



Published: Wed, September 4, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



CHINA UNDER COVER

Washington Post: A few days ago a leading AIDS activist in China disappeared. In many countries, such an event might prompt worries about the activist's health or fears of foul play. In China, the assumption is that Wan Yanhai has been put in prison for being too truthful about the AIDS catastrophe facing the country. Nor does it surprise anyone that police might spirit Dr. Wan off to jail without bothering to let anyone know.

It's worth keeping this incident in mind for a couple of reasons as the Bush administration establishes closer relations with China's Communist regime. President Bush has extended one of his coveted ranch invitations to President Jiang Zemin, who will visit next month. The U.S. government recently delighted Chinese officials by labeling a small separatist organization in western China as terrorist, apparently in gratitude for China promising -- yet again -- to crack down on missile-technology exports. And Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, visiting China recently, extolled the "mutual trust and confidence" between the two governments.

What gives Bush such trust and confidence in a regime that is so impenetrably secretive? It's not only on the street-level that China's Communists feel no need to account to their people -- on the level of disappearing dissidents and burned-down churches and tortured Falun Gong practitioners -- but on the biggest questions as well. China is believed to be approaching, in November, a change of power in which Jiang, 76, will give way to Vice President Hu Jintao, 59 -- but, then again, maybe not. Maybe Jiang is maneuvering to hold onto power, if not his official title -- or, again, maybe not. Outside a tiny elite, no one knows; nor is anyone clear on whether Jiang and Hu hold different positions on important issues. Yet the fates of 1.2 billion Chinese, not to mention the nature of their relations with the rest of the world, depend on these opaque maneuverings.

Peaceful Muslims

The East Turkestan Islamic Movement may indeed be a terrorist organization, as Armitage maintained. But when China seizes on the designation as further justification to arrest and imprison peaceful Muslims in western China who want more religious freedom or cultural autonomy, how loudly will the United States protest? For China's rulers, Rebiya Kadeer, a businesswoman sentenced in March 2000 to eight years in prison for sending newspaper clippings to her husband in the United States, is also a terrorist. And given its secrecy and media control, how much trust or confidence can there be in the regime's descriptions of violent Muslim separatism in its western regions?

The other striking conclusion that emerges from Dr. Wan's disappearance, aside from the atmosphere of secrecy, is how shortsighted are the regime's policies. Facing the risk of an Africa-style AIDS crisis that could decimate its population and economy, any forward-looking government would welcome the efforts of such activists. But Jiang and his cronies care more about their reputations. News of an AIDS catastrophe in China, after all, might spoil a friendly Crawford barbecue.

BEATING THE DEVIL IN NORTH DAKOTA

Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune: After 80 years of officially sanctioned demon worship, the forces of good have prevailed in Devil's Lake, N.D. No longer must the friends and families of high school athletes hail Lucifer in the course of encouraging a free-throw shooter. The Satans are history.

In shedding the mascot of darkness, the Devil's Lake school board has joined and perhaps broadened the trend to reconsider certain team names, place names and symbols that, however venerable, have become offensive. Or, as they say in Devil's Lake, no longer "appropriate."

The revisionists always stir up opposition, some of it insensitive and some of it not. But it is easier to grasp their purpose when the offending item is a Confederate flag, or an ugly caricature of an American Indian, or some other label or icon whose roots are clearly tainted with racism or sexism.

The Devil's Lake deal is different. It's the Christians who were allegedly aggrieved by a mascot that, in its current rendering, is a cute little archfiend -- sort of a Porky Pig with horns and pointy tale. Having gotten the Satans name removed from most displays in the school 10 years ago, the board has now completed the exorcism.

Mascot-free

And so, for the moment, the Devil's Lake teams are nameless and mascot-free. There was no going back to the turn-of-the-century sobriquet Speed Devils (not merely Satanic, but perhaps evocative of reckless drivers, bikers, meth heads). An entirely new name will be selected in a process that is sure to be appropriate at every stage.

Countless other schools that have some devilish character as part of their athletic identity will be watching with interest. And there's also a lesson to be noticed by, for example, the Prior Lake-Savage district, which will open a new and as yet unnamed senior high next year.

A team of Savages might inspire trepidation among opponents, but surely it would be inappropriate to adopt a term that has been deployed so injuriously against all manner of indigenous peoples.

A lot of the other old standbys don't sound so good anymore, either. The Spartans kept slaves, after all, and calling a team the Trojans only makes the sophomores think of you-know-what. As for Knights and Crusaders, look at all the mayhem they visited on the Holy Land. And names like Warriors evoke unpleasant overtones of militarism.




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